Georgia's parole board grants clemency to death row inmate hours before scheduled execution

(Reuters) - The Georgia parole board granted clemency to a death row inmate on Thursday, hours before he was to be executed for the murder of a convenience store clerk three decades ago.

The state's Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted the death sentence of Jimmy Fletcher Meders, 58, to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the board said in a statement. He had been scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 7 p.m. EST (0000 GMT).

The parole board said in a statement that Meders' lack of a criminal record before the murder and his good behavior while in prison were reasons it granted clemency. Meders was accused of only one minor infraction during more than 30 years on death row, it said.

The board also said it granted clemency because of "the jury’s explicit desire during deliberations to impose a life without parole sentence which was legally unavailable at the time, and every living, able juror’s continued support for such a sentence."

The parole board made its decision following a meeting on Wednesday and after it reviewed Meders' clemency application.

On Oct. 13, 1987, Meders met his boss, Randy Harris, Harris' cousin Bill Arnold and Arnold's friend Greg Creel. The men spent the day drinking before they dropped off Harris at a motel and went barhopping in Glynn County, located in eastern Georgia.

At 2:30 a.m., Creel said he was hungry, so the trio stopped at a Jiffy Store. As Arnold waited in the car, Creel went to the back of the store to warm a package of sausage biscuits in the microwave and Meders headed to the checkout counter where he pulled out a .38 caliber revolver, prosecutors said.

They said he shot store clerk Don Anderson in the chest and head before grabbing $38 and food stamps from the cash register.

Meders dropped the men off at a trailer park after they fled the store. He then went back to the motel where he told Harris he "blowed a man’s head off over $38," court records showed.

He was arrested after an informant told authorities he was involved in the crime. Investigators later matched the serial numbers on dollar bills found on Meders with bills at the crime scene. The murder weapon was found under the mattress of his bed, prosecutors said.

The three other men were never implicated in the robbery or murder.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney)